Hockey Headlines

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Everything Changes

The news came swiftly today as it was announced that the NHL had a "blockbuster" trade to announce. The Winnipeg Jets - not known to make trades involving NHL-ready players - made a move today that shook the cages of a number of NHL teams looking to tweak their teams as they enter their stretch runs. The Buffalo Sabres finally shook themselves of a player they seemingly wanted, but couldn't ever pull off the market. Both teams changed their teams dramatically as a seven-player deal was made between the two teams.

Let's be upfront here: this was a pure hockey deal. Far too often, teams are negotiating with an eye on the salary cap, but both of these teams had room to deal with the ability to pick up some salary. In saying that, neither team assumes a ton of salary one or the other, but both get a chance to improve their teams through this trade. For the first time in a long time, we get to see a pure hockey trade which resulted in a multi-player deal that should help both teams.

As for the deal itself, here are the particulars. The Winnipeg Jets traded Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian, and unsigned RPI goaltender Jason Kasdorf to Buffalo for Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, current Barrie Colts forward Brendan Lemieux, current Rochester Americans forward Joel Armia, and a 2015 first-round draft pick. The first-round pick will be the lowest of the three first-round picks that Buffalo owns, meaning it will be either St. Louis' or the New York Islanders' pick this season. As it stands right now, it would be St. Louis' pick that Winnipeg would receive in the deal.
WOW.

The Jets were actively shopping Kane, and they certainly wanted a decent return for the disgruntled winger. I don't think anyone imagined it would be the haul they received from Buffalo. Vancouver and Washington were reportedly in the discussions regarding Kane's availability, but Buffalo clearly anted up the best deal in this poker hand, and they will now have Kane's services at their disposal for the foreseeable future.

Let's take a look at each of the players involved in this deal.

OFF TO BUFFALO...

EVANDER KANE: There is no doubt that Evander Kane has the potential to be a dominant player in this league. Realizing that potential, though, is something that seems to be a fleeting thought in his head because Kane has only cracked the 20-goal barrier once in his six seasons in the NHL. Some will point at the Thrashers/Jets organization in terms of the perceived lack of opportunities provided to Kane, but the player is at least partly responsible for his own situation as to where he slots into the lineup. Kane rarely did himself favors off the ice in the public's eye with his antics, and he was far too often a "ride-along" for the Jets on the ice. In short, his antics both in the public realm and behind closed dressing room doors never bought him the benefit of the doubt that he thought he deserved. Part of that is due to the unrealized potential that he left on the table.

In Buffalo, he'll get a chance to start over with a team that is in full rebuild mode. Kane could and should occupy one of the winger spots on the top line next season with Sabres, and will most likely be looking at one of Sam Reinhart, Jack Eichel, or Connor McDavid as his centerman. He shouldn't have a problem being the shooter from any of those exceptional setup men, and we could see him breakout of his perceived lack of production in Winnipeg.

With Buffalo being somewhat similar to Winnipeg - a small market, hockey-mad city - fans will love his showmanship if he lights the lamp repeatedly. He can't lose focus, though, or he'll hear the fans in Buffalo calling for his head as often as they did in Winnipeg. If his childish antics begin to creep into the locker room once more, expect Ted Nolan to set him straight. If he doesn't get that message, he'll be on the trading block once more as Nolan won't put up with some of the stuff that was swept under the rug here in Winnipeg.

ZACH BOGOSIAN: A lot of people - both players and fans - in Winnipeg will be sad to see Bogosian on his way out, but this is simply a case of circumstances that sees Bogosian headed to upstate New York. Bogosian is a very solid defenceman that seemingly found a home in Winnipeg, but Buffalo needed someone to replace the traded Tyler Myers. So why Bogosian? It became a combination of his salary, his lack of offensive production, his inability to remain healthy for a full season, and some of his reported off-ice behaviors that may have prompted GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to opt to send the Massena, NY native to Buffalo. Buffalo needed a defenceman and Winnipeg had a gluttony of them. Straws were drawn, and Bogosian drew the short straw due to the factors above.

Bogosian will be a steady presence for the Sabres as they rebuild. He certainly won't win any Norris Trophies, but he'll stabilize a defence corps that couldn't find a home for Tyler Myers. He's generally safe in his own zone, can be a wrecking ball when needed to be, and should be a presence on the Sabres' blue line for some time at the age of 24. A lot of people have said how underrated Bogosian was with the Jets. I disagree with the idea that he was underrated as much as he was unnoticed. Being unnoticed as a defenceman usually means you're doing your job well, and Sabres fans will appreciate that aspect of Bogosian's game.

JASON KASDORF: I hate to suggest that Kasdorf was a throw-in on this trade, but the 2011 sixth-round pick by the Jets wasn't going to get many opportunities with the NHL club after being slotted behind Connor Hellebuyck and Eric Comrie. That being said, the Winnipeg native wasn't exactly setting the NCAA on fire with RPI this season either with a 9-14-0 record, a 2.94 GAA, and a .900 save percentage in his first full season as the starter. Kasdorf had yet to be signed by the Jets and there may have been questions as to whether he would sign knowing where he sat in the depth chart, so this may be the Jets tossing Kasdorf a lifeline in sending him to Buffalo. Regardless of the reasons the Jets threw him into this trade, he's now going to be working his way up the Sabres' depth chart going forward.

COMING TO WINNIPEG...

TYLER MYERS: The former Calder Trophy-winner had seen his stock plummet along with his stats to the point where he was no longer a player sent onto the ice in the final minute of a game. Myers' confidence probably took a beating if he read the newspapers and listened to the radio shows in Buffalo, and a broken player is a tough thing to fix in a toxic environment. The trade to Winnipeg should provide Myers an opportunity to shed the baggage he may have been carrying in Buffalo. He won't be expected to be the 50-point guy he needed to be in Buffalo every night, and there will be some rebuilding of that confidence by the Jets in seeing if Myers can find the form that had him resembling a world-class defenceman in 2010.

Like Kane, untapped potential is what the Jets see in Myers. Head coach Paul Maurice has seen a case like Myers before as he had a young Chris Pronger in Hartford. It will be up to Maurice and assistance coach Charlie Huddy to groom Myers and bring him back to the form that saw him win the Calder Trophy. Pairing him with Toby Enstrom should help the youngster, and Maurice has stated that he'll work with Myers in the same vein that he worked with Dustin Byfuglien to refine his game. That has to excite Winnipeg fans and the Jets organization if Myers can discover his game as much as Byfuglien has.

While this won't be what Jets fan want to hear, if things with Myers simply don't work out over the next month for whatever reason, the Jets can still look at dealing Myers to a team needing a defenceman. There were rumors that the Detroit Red Wings were looking at Myers before today's trade. Could the Jets find a way to bring in Teemu Pulkkinen if he were available in a Myers-to-Detroit deal? Of course, the Jets don't want to be in that situation, so let's toss Myers some credit here in that he'll buy into whatever it is Maurice and company have in store for him, and he becomes the next Pronger or Chara in this league. After all, 6'8" defencemen don't just fall out of trees in the NHL.

DREW STAFFORD: Stafford finds himself in a somewhat similar position to Myers where his stats seemingly had fallen off compared to previous seasons. The Sabres retain half of Stafford's $4 million salary for this season and he becomes an unrestricted free agent after the season, so he's literally playing for a contract for next season in his Jets' debut. He'll be a serviceable third-line winger if he can chip in a few goals and lay out a few bodies, but there's hope he can push for a second-line spot if he can push his game to another level. With that contract hope in the back of his mind and being on a new team, Stafford should be properly motivated to play his tail off in Winnipeg.

Stafford's downfall, however, is his ability to become invisible. Too often in games this season, he's neither contributed on the scoresheet nor has he piled on the secondary stats. Part of that has to do with his roster slot in Buffalo, so he'll need to bring it every night if he hopes to convince the Jets' brass to sign him to a contract next season. He doesn't need to be a point-per-game player if he can block shots, throw hits, and stay on the plus side of the plus-minus, but he certainly can't skate fifteen minutes and record nothing tangible. The Jets will expect him to hold up that end of the bargain in this deal.

JOEL ARMIA: The 16th-overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft has only spent two seasons, including this one, in North America. However, his impact with the AHL's Rochester Americans has been felt. The Finn has racked up 17 goals and 35 assists in 87 AHL games thus far, and the Americans were only starting to see his potential before the trade. He has incredible hands and stick-handling skills, and has shown a flair for goals when he finds the slot. While he's still a little slight in terms of his weight for NHL work, he should be considered as another piece of the deep Jets prospect pool that continues to grow. Armia should push for a roster spot within a season or two, and he could be the next Finnish favorite in the Manitoba capital if he continues to develop. He's not as polished as Nikolaj Ehlers, but he could push for a second-line spot with his abilities.

BRENDAN LEMIEUX: I'm quite excited to see Lemieux in the Jets' fold. The 31st-overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft is a talented goal scorer with a mean streak to boot. His numbers are pretty impressive with the OHL's Barrie Colts: 111 games played to this point, 62 goals, 41 assists, and a mere 265 PIMs. He's going to be a longer-term project with the Jets than an Ehlers or Petan, but he'll be a solid contributor once he figures out the pro game. Lemieux plays like his father, Claude Lemieux, and reportedly has an intense compete level that few rival. His want for the puck makes him extremely hard to defend, and he has an incredible ability to play in front of the goalie and deflect pucks. He's an asset already, and he's only 18.

FIRST-ROUND PICK: Not only do the Jets have their own first-round pick, but they add a late first-round pick in this deal. This year's NHL draft class is deep, and the Jets will have options late in the opening round. Maybe they look at a scoring winger like Charlottetown's Daniel Sprong? Maybe they look for a solid two-way forward like Colin White of the US U18 team? Perhaps a defenceman like Sweden's Jacob Larsson is available? Whatever the Jets decide at their draft position, there are a lot of great players still available late in the round. Winnipeg's prospect pool just keeps getting deeper and deeper, and we haven't even spoken about the possibility of trading this pick with another piece - Pavelec? Postma? Others? - to upgrade the team even further.

SO WHO WON THE TRADE?

Man, I hate that question. Winning and losing a trade all depend on optics. You could say the Jets won by trading Evander Kane's contract to the Sabres. You could say that the Sabres won by getting Tyler Myers off their blue line. You could say that the additional pieces Winnipeg received gives them the upper hand, but there's no guarantee any of Armia, Lemieux, or whoever they pick in the draft will make it to the NHL.

In the short term, it appears Winnipeg wins simply due to the fact that Kane is done for the season with his shoulder injury. However, we won't start seeing the fruits of Buffalo's moves until next season because of that fact, so let's leave this one as "they're both happy".

ARE YOU HAPPY?

Hell yes. I love that Winnipeg is actually willing to take a chance on Myers and Stafford. In fact, I asked this very question on Twitter on February 3. I took some heat for this tweet:
I'm not saying I called this trade at all, but it seemed like something that would be easy to do considering both teams' needs when I looked at the pieces of the deal. I had suggested Bogosian, Postma, Galiardi, and a mid-round pick to go to Buffalo, but that was before the Kane fiasco in Winnipeg. When that story broke, all bets were off and Kane was, as we now know, a marked man.

SO IN SHORT...

Let's call it as it is: both teams got what they wanted, both teams added pieces they think they need, and both teams come away happy with the results. Sometimes, hockey trades just work for both sides. This is one of those deals where the real results of the trade may not be seen for several seasons or longer.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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